Sunday, July 14, 2013

ECUADOR we Arrived !

I can't even begin to express the feelings that I was experiencing during our travel day last Saturday. But rest assured, they were many and varied from sadness at leaving our family and friends behind to excitement at being back on the road again.

This was to be our first time on a new continent and in a new country that we've heard so much about and that I've research extensively.  But research and reality are two very different perspectives, as we found in our travels to Panama & Costa Rica.

After our daughter, Denise, followed us to the rental car return so that we would have a way to get to the airport, we discovered that we had been given inaccurate information by Avis' "out of country" information hot line. We were told that the rental car return did not open until 5:00AM and that there were no shuttles running until then. As we had no way to get from there to the airport with our luggage at the early morning hour of 4:30AM, Denise was gracious enough to get up at the ungodly hour of 4am. HA on us! When we got there, pretty as you please, was a shuttle van just waiting to take early riders to the airport.  Argh!! So sorry and THANK YOU Denise for giving us peace of mind at getting to the airport on time!!

Once in Miami, we had a 7 hour layover that we had to figure out how to pass.  But, between breakfast, walking from one end to the other, reading, and lunch, we managed.  Actually, a layover in Miami was a good way to assimilate back into the Spanish language.  Good practice!

Our flight left and arrived on time into Guayaquil, Ecuador at 7:00pm. We zipped right through customs and got the "green" light so our luggage was not checked again and we were not even asked to show proof of when we were leaving. Upon entering into the main beautiful terminal, there was a friendly gentleman holding up a sign with my name on it!! Our prearranged ride by our hotel was there as promised! So we were quickly loaded into the taxi and off to our hotel.  Within only ONE hour, we landed, went through customs, collected our luggage, found our ride, and were deposited in front of Hotel Ramada on the Malecón!! Now that's working like clockwork!

We were there in time to go have a drink on the beautiful Malecón along the Rio Guayas in front of our hotel with all its lively activity of families, lovers, and strollers enjoying an evening out.  Rascas has an upstairs patio restaurant/bar area with terrific views up and down the Malecón.

Afterwards we walked further up the river. The Malecón is incredible and beautiful!  We even headed down a street where we could hear the "boom" "boom" from music but quickly discovered that we not only stood out like a sore thumb, we were a bit "over" the age population so decided to head back to our room for the night.

Sunday morning we were up to have a good breakfast at our hotel before 10am. From there we began our day of exploration. Our first stop was around the corner to book our van ride to Salinas on Monday, a 2 hour van drive for only $15/ea including our big luggage.

Once that was done, we walked down the Malecón some more before we walked into the city center. One of things we enjoyed most was the architecture. Gorgeous old buildings that have been renovated with their intricate patterns and pageantry!

Meandering up and down streets, we found a Claro phone store that was open on Sunday! So in we went to get our Ecuadorian sim chips and buy phone/internet minutes. Since most here speak no English, Mike's Spanish has been tested and pushed from the beginning. My humble use of words, a smile, and sign language along with laughing at myself helps. Anyway, we thought we got through the process pretty well with charges of only $31 for both of us. However, even after a couple of hours, our internet wasn't working on our phones. That's another story.

We happened upon another beautiful cathedral with a park in front of it. Low and behold, it was the Iguana Park that I had read about! True to what I had read, there were Iguanas everywhere - some old very old. It was quite a site to see and we enjoyed it while listening to the beautiful music coming from the church during services.

Making our way back to the Malecón, we happened upon a river boat tour that was boarding and decided to go for a ride for only $3/each.  So glad we did!  Seeing the city from the river is quite different than just walking below all the buildings and not seeing the full picture.  Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador boasting a population of 3 million and it's a huge land mass.

After taking a short break back at our room, we headed north up river on the Malecón to the Las Penas District, which is one of the oldest parts of town that didn't burn in a massive fire way back when. The District fills 2 hillsides straight up with narrow cobblestone walking paths and 500 stairs climbing to the top where there is a chapel and a lighthouse. Since the lighthouse is closed, the most you can climb is 444 but with all of our other meandering, we more than climbed 500!  What a delightful stunningly colorful place!

We ended the evening again at Rascas. We tried finding another place but it was Sunday and most other place up in the District were closed. Good thing we got there before 5pm because what we did find out was that there is no liquor sold AFTER 5pm on Sunday anywhere in the country. We haven't figured out the logic in this. Anyone care to clue us in, if they know?

An observation that have struck us almost immediately though is how warm and friendly the Ecuadorians are! There is always a smile and a response to our Buenas or Holas. There's no problem announcing that we're from America since I'm the only blonde and Mike towers over everyone at only 5'10". We were approached a few times where an elderly Ecuadorian wanted to practice their English only to find that Mike could converse in return in Spanish. Except then they would presume he speaks fluently and would start to talk really fast and lose him !

The traveling fatigue finally caught up with us and we were in our room reading not long after sunset at 6:30pm. We felt like we'd only scratched the surface of this vibrant city but so glad we stayed the extra day to explore before heading off to Salinas and our "home" for the next month.

All checked out and a short walk around the corner, we were loaded into our van to find that there was only one other passenger and the driver. By all of the packages loaded on, it appears that they make most of their money delivering goods.

The weather had been sunny/partly cloudy but warm in Guayaquil and the sun continued to shine all the way to the border of Salinas Province. Then it disappeared and hasn't come out since!! And, it's in the low 70s so we certainly haven't worn summer clothes. But, it is their "winter" and this is "normal" because of the Humbolt Current meeting the Panama Current colliding and causing the overcast skies. So, welcome to winter!

Upon being let off right at our doorstep, we were greeted by the employees here at our apartment building, Anacapri. Our apartment is on the 11th floor and is what they call a "cozy" 2 bedroom apartment. The 2nd bedroom is where we are laying our suitcases open because there isn't enough room to totally unpack.  It does have an incredible view of both sides of the peninsula with the Pacific Ocean. It also helps that the terrain is completely flat and I mean flat as a pancake! There are trees and some beautiful flowering bushes but other than that it's concrete.

We took stock of what's included in the apartment and kitchen noting that, again, they didn't make good use of the space there is.  We have gotten used to this and make the best of it.  It's all part of the journey but we sure wish that landlords everywhere would realize that with very little effort, all could be good for everyone.

Our first order of business was to go to the grocery store, which took us straight down the Malecón our very first time and a view of the Bay.  I was quite impressed with the store where there were many brand items that we're used to. We piled the cart full including wine, beer, meat, condiments, veggies, fruits, dry goods, etc. and the whole bill only came to $128. 

By the time we had put away everything, the last thing I wanted to do was cook, so out we went to find a restaurant to eat at on the Malecón.  We didn't venture too far and had a nice dinner at a place that looked like a ship, Mar y Tierra. Good lasagna but overpriced wine. Back to the apartment and some unwinding for the night.

Our first night of sleeping was getting used to all the neighborhood noises again. I heard barking dogs, a cat fight, a rooster at 3AM, and again at 6AM when all of the traffic noise started. Our building only has single pane windows and it sounds like everything is right out our apartment even though we're on the 11th floor. Mike has been using ear plugs and I'm now used to the noise being like background, so I'm sleeping much better!!

Tuesday brought back our daily walks and exploring of our new town.  Maybe we can begin to lose a bit of the weight we put back on while in the states. So down the Malecón we went walking on the beautiful ocean side of the street. The other side has many high rise condo buildings, shops, restaurants, and bars.  At the far south end and around the corner, is the Yacht Club and the quieter beach of Chipipe.  That area will have to be discovered next week.

We had received an invitation to go to Gringo Night at Marco's Dollar Pizza Tuesday night, which we did.  Meeting up with Joan & Vic Dale, friends only through Facebook, it was simply awesome to meet them face to face and share some lively conversation!  The Pizza is oven fire baked and it was excellent! Thank You, Marco!

Joan had also invited Maria, a native Ecuadorian who had lived in Boston for 40 years and is a US citizen. But when she inherited a family home, she decided to come back and live here in Salinas. She was saying how she's now "caught in the middle", as she's too American to be Ecuadorian and in the states she's a "foreigner".  What a lovely, beautiful lady!!  So thrilled to have met her!

We all decided to walk back towards Maria's turnoff from the Malecón. Upon coming by another Facebook friend's condo, Helga & Charles, with windows open and lights on, Joan started yelling for her to come out. What a hoot!! Helga appeared and we found ourselves invited up for drinks. Again, what a delight to have live people to go with the name!!

Tuesday brought an outing by bus up to the Paseo Mall in La Libertad.  Our internet on our cell phones was still not working and we needed to get it all figured.  After waiting for a bus on the wrong street, we walked to the correct corner one block away actually back from where we had come after observing that busses were only going one way. 

The first bus picked up passengers down a block but didn't stop when we tried to flag it down. Hmmm, maybe my hair is too blonde?? But when the next one came not long after, it did stop for us. $.25/person and off we went.  The bus was packed, so we had to stand. Funny thing was that Mike couldn't stand straight up because he would hit his head on the ceiling when the bus bounced. Even funnier is that Mike is only 5''10" !! 

Off to Claro we went and after some back and forth with Mike being sorely challenged with his Spanish, we finally got my phone up and working.  Decided not to both with Mike's for the time being.

A bit of shopping in HyperMart, which is like a small WalMart, we needed to head back home because we had another get together scheduled with another Facebook friend, Lucie.  I met Lucie on fb when I saw her post that her apartment in Salinas was for rent.  It was too large and over our budget PLUS she was going to be here from Niagara Falls, Ontario when we needed it. But, it gave us a chance to get to know each other. We had a delightful evening visiting at her place not far from ours!

As the weekend approached, town activity began to pick up.  Allot of Ecuadorians come to the resort town of Salinas from up in the highlands where it's pretty cold (down into the low 40s at night) and from Guayaquil, to play at the beach.  Mike & I decided to walk north from our place up the beach to see what was up that way.  We found several good restaurants and bars that I had become familiar with through fb. 

We stopped at Sin for an afternoon drink and met Kim, the owner, and Andy, a local Canadian character.  A pleasant way to end our walk of discovery.  And, we planned on going back Saturday night when they were having a guest chef, Anna, who was going to be serving lasagna (my favorite!), salad & garlic breach for only $6/plate.

Friday brought more discovery by walking, only this time we did the back streets and found all sorts of cool local restaurants and shops.  One place had these wonderfully colorful Ecuadorian balloon pants that just happened to match my orange Clark's sandals, so I just had to have them! I was quoted $12 but before I could open my mouth, the lady reduced them to $10! Some might say I paid too much but since I LOVE them, I didn't!!

Wanting to see how "alive" the Malecón gets on the weekend, Mike & I decided to go out and find a watering hole to observe from.  We found a charming place half way down and sat up on the open veranda and people watched.  We were amazed at how many people were still out in the water having a grand old time!

Our days have been pretty lazy and Saturday was no exception.  I made our first real breakfast and enjoyed the homemade sausage that was made by a gringa, Kathryn Kelly. We didn't get to meet her when we picked up our 2 lbs on Friday but we did meet her delightful husband, Gary, and had quite a nice chat.  I still look forward to meeting her.

I think, no...I know, that the weather has put us both into a bit of a funk.  We are trying to make the paradigm shift for "winter" being July, August, September. In our body clocks, it's supposed to be hot weather, swimming suits, and shorts. So, when the sun made a beautiful appearance on Saturday afternoon, everyone and I mean everyone came out to enjoy it!  Since we're so close to the equator, I could definitely feel the intensity of it and loved every moment!!

There had been a ceremony Saturday morning officially opening the Whale Watching Season, which runs from July through September here for the Humpbacks.  The parade was supposed to start at 3pm but remember this is Latin America and nothing starts on time. So around 5:30pm things got started right in front of our place. We enjoyed it from our vantage point of the rooftop terrace and could also enjoy the sun!  Along with the parade was a pretty neat boat flotilla that made its way down the shoreline.

At about 6pm, we made our way back down to Sin and began an evening of enjoying good food, meeting new friends, and dancing!  Coincidently, we sat next to a couple from Florida who had only been here 2 weeks and it turns out they live right next door to us with their building only being about 50' from ours.  We had a fabulous time!

Mike's been having shoulder pain since late Thursday and it just keeps getting worse.  So much so that we are going to the clinic tomorrow to see what's going on.  Hopefully, it's nothing serious and we can get back to normal.

Today we spent the day making Skype calls and catching up with friends and family back home.  And dinner on the Malecón with another fb friend whose been in the states and just got back, Lorraine. And, Stephanie and her son, Andrew, joined us as well.  A wonderful evening yet again!!

Most of our free time spent lazing around the apartment isn't wasted time.  We're still having to do allot of planning for our stay here in Ecuador as well as our future travels. 

We did manage to secure a lovely 2bedroom/2bathroom apartment for a month for our next month in Bahia.  Another fb friend, Miriam Weaver, is a property manager and she was able to find one that will be our home there.  We'll have a view of the river and the Pacific Ocean because the building is located right on the point.

We also booked our flight from Lima, Peru to Managua, Nicaragua today.  We scored BIG time!!  We were able to find a flight that takes us first to Fort Lauderdale, where we will spend 2 nights before flying on to Managua.  By doing this, we were able to get our total cost to less than half of what every other carrier was going to be!  So even by staying 2 nights in a hotel, we save big time.

We've been busy studying bus schedules here and deciding which routes we're going to take from down on the lowlands to get up to the highlands.  It can be very confusing but eventually it all comes together.

So here's hoping all goes well tomorrow for Mike. And, so the journey continues.....

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